Saturday, 31 January 2015

So you want to build a Campervan?!...

Deciding to build a van from scratch was daunting, but we felt we could combine the best bits from the Blue smartie van and Mildred to make a mega-awesome winter van. We bought our base van, a 56 plate Jumbo wheelbase Ford Transit, back in September.

The buying criteria was pretty basic. We wanted at least 4 metres of internal length to the van with both rear doors and a sliding side door. Our first van just had rear barn doors and it just doesn't lend itself to an efficient or adaptable furniture layout. In an ideal world I wanted a Mercedes Sprinter.... but we ended up with a Ford Transit, balancing out cost vs condition vs miles covered etc etc.

So there we are with our new, MASSIVE, Transit sat out front.... And it was straight off to work. The existing ply lining, flooring and complimentary cobwebs were removed and the whole van cleaned ready for the tri-foil insulation to be cut and stuck in to place. We got some paint on style high temperature adhesive, as when the van sits in the sun the metal bodywork can get hot and normal adhesives give way. It turned out we needed two 5 litres tins of this!

This is an apt time to get all of the cables runs you require sorted out. I had already decided on the layout and had intended on the Leisure batteries and general 'Heart' of the electrical system to be located in a bench type seat on the front right of the van, directly infront of you as you open the sliding door. I then sent black cable ducting from this point to all 4 'quadrants' of the van, either running over the ceiling or as you can see under the floor.

Celotex going in with cable ducting
2 x 1 going down
Once the foil type insulation was stuck to every surface possible, including in all the nooks, crannies, above the cab, crannies... and a few more nooks it was time for the good bit. Celotex rigid insulation! This stuff is great to mess about with. The easiest way I deciphered of cutting it was to measure it up roughly on the space you want to fill, mark it and cut one side of the board through the metal foil outer, then snap the board along this line and finally run a stanley knife on the underside foil. Either that or using a serrated bread knife to cut curves, angles and weird little bits that needed taking out for the piece to fit properly in those nooks.

I used 25mm Celotex all over the van. This fit just nicely between the ceiling ribs and sat flush with them ready for ply lining. On the walls I was able to double the board up in most places, giving that little bit extra thermal protection. We are building this for the Alps! We'd read that raising the floor was a big necessity, even though heat rises, the wicking action of cold winds rushing under the van would also suck our heat away. This was achieved by sticking 2 x 1 inch batons to the lower most ridges of the van and lying cut Celotex in between them to give a fully insulated floor.

Keeping refreshed during all of this work was essential, as can be seen to the left. Once refreshed it was on to lining the van in ply wood. The floor being a load bearing area was clad in 25mm marine grade ply. This was screwed and glued in to the batons we'd stuck down earlier. After chopping a big hole for the skylight the ceiling had a layer of lighter 6mm ply wood affixed to it using self tapping screws in to the metal ribs of the van.

Sticking the stretchy van lining carpet on to the ceiling was fairly straight forward affair with two of us. Cutting the section oversized we were able to spray the adhesive on in a big strip straight down the length of the van and work from the middle out.

The floor I chose was a laminate style tile in a zebra stripe wood effect.... Which looks pretty darn smart even if I do say so myself! It was easy to lay, again working from the centre of the van out, sticking it on to the ply with pressure sensitive adhesive.

9mm ply was affixed to the walls much like the ceiling, using self tapping metal screws in to the various ribs. On some of the joins I had to insert a piece of baton behind so that each of the edges could be screwed to it and sit flush with each other.

Next and on to some funky furniture building! We wanted to make the best use of our van, and I spotted a wicked website with some cool van layouts. Ideally we want to be able to accommodate guests when we are travelling, and have a semi fixed bed (ie one we can leave out and not have to put away every day if we don't want to). So we opted for a large bed at the rear of the van that, if needed, could be put away to form 2 x bench seats. I found a nifty design idea for a bench seat that slides out to make a semi-double sized bed. The number of slats on the pull out section was doubled from the pictures shown below. When extended the front drivers seat can be bent forward and 2 people can just about fit on the bed, making this van habitable for 4!

Construction of all of the furniture was done with 2 x 2 inch timber. I tried to pick the straightest pieces from the builder merchants by holding the piece by one end and 'eyeing' it down each edge. Straight wood makes for easier building!

Measure twice and cut once was the order of the day, joining each piece by drilling a pilot hole smaller than the diameter of the screws I was using, and adding a blob of glue on the surfaces before screwing two screws in to each piece.

The rear bench seats/bed was built using the same process, measuring and building around the wheel arches. All of the units were screwed in to the metal struts of the van using long self tapping screws and in to the floor using wood screws.

These were later clad on all sides using 9mm plywood, making enclosed units. Simple, slot in 'lids' were built in 9mm plywood and were easier to build and use than fixed lids on hinges. Keep it simple stupid.

Kerry's Aunt works at a foam and upholstery distributor and did an absolutely brilliant job of wrapping the campervan grade foam we had cut to bespoke sizes. This was one expense we didn't realise would be so much. A 50% discount on the foam was much appreciated, but the red material we wanted still set us back a few hundred pounds!

The kitchen was built in exactly the same way as the bed units and clad in 9mm plywood. We were gifted some very nice looking white kitchen doors and installed them on proper kitchen door hinges. They are kept shut in transit with the use of simple magnetic or push fit door stays. The kitchen work surface was also kindly donated and after a precarious few hours with a jigsaw had a hole the perfect shape for the sink/hob combo to slot in. This was simply screwed to the wooden unit from underneath and makes for a very swanky looking kitchen!

Under the unit we went with a simple water system comprising of 2 jerry cans, one for the fresh water pump to drop in to and one for the waste to drain in to. A gaslow re-fillable bottle was installed, strapping it safely to the side of the van, and plumbed in using simple 8mm Inside diameter hosing. The fill point for the gas is on the outside of the unit so that we can fill up at a petrol station with LPG fairly easily. We had one of these systems in a previous van and it is amazingly cheap to fill up compared to switching over bottles.

The space between the front and back benches was reserved for a showerdrobe. Part shower, part wardrobe, for hanging wet snowboarding clothes, as well as housing the simple cassette toilet... you know... for those middle of the night moments.

The ply wood was painstakingly coated in 7 layers of Marine grade yacht varnish to make it water proof. All of the joints were sealed using an antibacterial silicon sealant and the shower tray was stuck firmly in place with the drain hole poking out of the bottom of the van. KISS!

A good friend was able to get us a very good deal on an Eberspacher D2 diesel heater, normally used for heating buses. Again, with a little help from my friends, I installed this under the kitchen unit with one hot air outlet poking out under one of the bed units. It sucks diesel from a jerry can we place under the van, burns it and passes the space air over a heat exchanger to heat it up. Only trouble being it was a 24v model and we were installing a 12v battery system.

After a little googling and electrical calculations I worked out I needed a fairly expensive 12v to 24v transformer capable of the high starting current. While this alone was expensive it was still cheaper than buying a 12v heater. A few trial runs later and the heater was up and running and pumping out some good hot air!

The electrical system has two 110aH 12v batteries at its core. These are charged by two 100W solar panels on the roof as well as the van's alternator when the engine it running. On our previous vans we had a split charge relay system whereby we had to manually connect and disconnect the van battery and these leisure batteries, but, with the purchase of a voltage sensing relay, this process is now automated. The batteries are connected when the voltage in the system is above 12.8 volts. This means that all of the batteries are charged when the sun is shining :) or the van is running. As soon as the system voltage drops to 12.8 volts the relay cuts the link between the van's starter battery and the leisure batteries, so we only drain the energy in the leisure batteries and are able to start the van at any time.

Overall building the van was an enjoyable experience. Some bits were tedious to do (Like sticking all that silver foil!) Other bits were technically taxing, but the majority of it was fun and interesting.

If you have any questions on building vans, want advise, or even a little helping hand, send me a message to . It'd also be great to see your own vans! Pictures and comments below!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Aquaventure, Burj Khalifa and the rest of Dubai... (Video)

How do you describe Dubai to someone that's never been to Dubai?

That is the question I simply cannot answer.... yet I'll try and convey some sort of semblance from my visit here.

Take everything you know and inject a healthy dose of steroids in to it. Actually that's it, I've just nailed it! Everything on steroids. Shoppings centres, motorways, cars, leisure activities, night clubs... the lot. 

The city boasts a myriad of Guiness World Records as its accolades. Most of which are easily viewable, including the worlds largest airport that we flew in to. The Worlds Largest Shopping Mall sits in the middle of town. The Dubai Mall was on our list of must visits. It's the largest mall in terms of floorspace, and is host to absolutely every shop and fashion label you can think of. But it was the other attractions that really caught my attention. For instance this huge dinosaur skeleton was just mooching about in one of the many vaulted atriums. In another was an equally big cascading waterfall with stainless steal sculptures diving downward.

However the most bizarre thing about the Mall is most evident from the outside. A large tubular shape sticks straight out of the mall, reaching skyward at an angle. Initially I didn't have a clue what it was until I remembered that here, in the middle of a desert, was a 1312 foot long indoor ski slope!

After meandering around the American Eagle store for some pants and numerous big label sports shops for some running shoes for my Sister we headed to the bottom of the slope for dinner in the Cheesecake Factory. 

After spending so much time in the Alps snowboarding, and not in an indoor ski slope in the desert, it was very amusing to see Arabs gliding expertly down the slope. It was funny seeing their classic arabic dress, the Thawb, trailing behind them like some sort of superman cape. I was itching to have a go and warm up for the coming winter season, but running a little lean on dough decided I'd save it for a more affluent time.

Drinking in Dubai is somewhat of a complex affair. It's illegal to drink, or be under the influence of alcohol on the street. Non-Muslim, foreign nationals can obtain a 'license to drink' (Not sure if this is only for Martinis, shaken and not stirred) which they must carry and then enables them to drink in specially licensed places, normally hotels, restaurants etc.

This rule applies to everyone, including tourists, however it's not strictly enforced. The hotels do not sell licenses, neither does the airport, but there have been stories where the police have been called to a kerfuffel in a hotel bar and then used this lack of 'license to drink' to book foreign tourists. So the advice is to not be openly drunk on the street and to avoid any interaction with police if you are.

So we set out to Barasti Beach bar after a few warm up drinks in the hotel. It is located at the end of the palm just as the trunk meets the shore, on the south side. A perimeter fence welcomes you as the bouncers check your credentials and either lets you in or not. Inside is a fairly upmarket far, restaurant, dance floor arrangement. There was a band playing on a small stage, disco lights and some comfy leather sofas and pouffes dotted around which we plotted on after getting a Belgian beer at the bar.

The spectacular backdrop of the Dubai skyline and the large stage on the beach really set this venue off. The high rise buildings are magically perched meters away from the sea, Barasti beach bar nestled in between. After a nice meal the music started down on the beach.

The beach was devoid of anyone dancing so I made it my mission to get it started! My Sister, Ellie, joined me and after a while so did a few other patrons. I was prancing about like the usual vaguely drunk Adam dancing to music.

I asked one girl where she was from. "Russia!" she replied, throwing her hands up and mimicking my silly British dancing. Throughout the night we'd have a little boogy and shout "Mother Russia!" while laughing hystericaly, I don't think she knew any much more English. I made weird connections where guys would ask me to get such and such a girl up to dance so they could hit on them. I obliged, pulling sullen looking ladies off of the leather pouffes and getting a macarana circle going. It was absolutely brilliant.

Until a big hefty bouncer came over and tapped me on the shoulder. Within an instant my Dad appeared at my side, he'd been dancing on the side lines but was suddenly in the thick of it. I went to the edge of the dance floor where the bouncer had been standing before coming in to the foray. He moved his head next to mine and half whispered, half shouted over the music... "When the next drop comes can you drag me in as well?!" It was so funny. I grabbed his big bulk and got him trying slut drops, on a beach, in Dubai. The whole evening was brilliant.

Some of the more conservative blokes didn't like my antics, but all I had to do was turn around and give a thumbs up to Mr Lithuania (as I'd nicknamed him) who was the biggest guy in the party. He returned the thumb and carried on dancing with his new lady.

So for a place regarded as strict on drinking, I managed four very hungover mornings after very good nights.

The Aquaventure waterpark was attached to the hotel we were staying in. It was really well put together with a lazy river circumnavigating it like a mini highway. Some of the rides were pretty daunting, including some very long straight chutes, one in particular that shot you through a tunnel surrounded with sharks!

The best by far was Poseidons Revenge. I'm not very good at heights and hate suspense so this was a real challenge for me. You basically climbed in to a perspex capsule that shut around you and waited patiently for the floor to literally drop away from you, sending you plunging to an unknown watery fate. I mastered it the first time but each time after that was just as scary as the apprehension of when the floor was going to disappear was a bigger scare than then actual water slide!

Next stop was the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, sitting next to the Dubai mall and with some impressive fountains in a man made lake at its base. Over 800 metres high it is pretty massive. It even contrasts hugely against all of the other high rise buildings spread generously over Dubai.

Dubai is a mad mad place. It's a lot more Westernised than Jeddah, and consequently can feel a little less raw and more touristy, but its sheer opulence and extravagances are something to be experienced. The mix of all cultures remind me of a shipping terminal from a Star Wars film. If diversity isn't your thing you'll hate this place. But I love change, difference and try to be as open as I can about most things so I absolutely loved it!

Checkout the video I produced from my trip to the Middle East here

Friday, 19 December 2014

Arriving at the Atlantis on the Palm, Dubai...

Arriving in Dubai and The Atlantis on the Palm

It's only a short flight from Jeddah across Saudi to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, just over 2 hours, but Saudia Airlines managed to fit in a full on gourmet meal, newspapers and tea and coffee. Their in flight entertainment was also very comprehensive with a touch screen to scroll through what seemed like thousands of categories each with a plethora of multicultural choices.

Being the inquisitive soul I am I went straight for the most unusual (obviously not here) category, Islam... Inside was about 50 films to watch, some of them in Arabic, some in Arabic with subtitles and some that were English speaking. I clicked through and started to watch a couple of the English ones. They all took on the same format, interviewing Western people who had converted to Islam, moved to Saudi or Qatar or another Gulf state and started living their lives with the Qua'ran at the heart of the family. 

The films gave some impressive facts about the good Muslims do throughout the world. I learnt about the Hajj, a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia where a number of rituals are performed including spending 24 hours out in the desert as well as walking around, between and under religious landmarks. Some 3 million people are expected in the city over just a couple of weeks each year. Most interestingly of all is a pillar of Islam called Zakat.

From what I could gather Zakat is a sort of moral obligation to other Muslims. Should their financial situation permit, people who follow Islam have to donate a portion of their wealth to charitable causes. My Dad had experienced this living in Jeddah. He is friends with a Philippino woman who also lives on his compound. She has a modest wage working as a hotel chamber maid, however, she still finds enough money to contribute towards a young boy's education. 

The total monetry value given to charitable causes from Muslims following Zakat all around the world is reported to be 15 times that of similar contributions made by governmental organisations. 15 times! 
All of the videos took on the same tact towards the end... that guy in the middle of town screaming about the importance of this religion or that religion and that you should condemn your sins and follow this book or that book. I soon turned the TV over to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...

Mid way through the flight I noticed a lot less of the ladies were wearing abaya's (The compulsory  dress for women in public throughout the more strict Muslim lands) and instead were coming out of the toilet dripping in diamonds, wearing high class fashion and smelling divine every time they walked past me. Whilst Dubai and the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim state, there is a lot more lenience in upholding the customs. The abaya seems an oppressive dress code to me, but underneath, Arabic women really are beautiful.

We landed at the airport and was greeted by a Mercedes Limousine with enough electronics in it to go to space. If you could move it, it had a button to do it for you, window blinds, separate sun roofs, chilled cup holders with complimentary water. Every crevice in the door cards had a thin line of blue LEDs that stretched out to the foot wells. To adjust my seat I had no less than 8 different axis points to tweak so I was as comfy as comfy can be. I noticed a small orange triangle in the wing mirrors, but only at certain times. I asked the driver and he showed me, if he was in the right hand lane of the 6 lane motorway we were on and indicated left to change lane but there was a car in his blind spot it lit up the triangle. Then he asked me to put my hand on the steering wheel and as he started to turn, with the car still in the blind spot, the steering wheel vibrated to further tell him he was about to cave in a bright yellow Lamborghini. I drive a Ford Transit most of the time... I've put LEDs in that flash multicolours until you start to spin out or get a headache.

Our destination was even more lavish than this car. It took around 40 minutes driving parallel to the coast through downtown Dubai. Every building seemed to have at least 20 floors, and they were the small ones. It was all too much to take in really as the driver and my Dad were pointing out places of importance. I was transfixed by the funny shape the sat nav was telling us to drive on to. The Palm. 

The Palm is a totally man made land mass jutting out in to the Gulf sea on the Dubai coast. Dubai's fairly recent push to grab tourists, and the money they bring, is for a very good reason. Once rich in oil reserves that made Dubai what it is today, an oasis of wealth and pleasure in an arid desert, oil only accounts for 7% of the countries GDP today compared to over 80% 20 years ago. The booming tourism industry has stepped in and taken up the mantle of the oil fields. 

But tourists like beaches, and Dubai only had a modest 72 km of coast line. So the simple answer was to build more coast, out at sea. The construction takes advantage of the shape of a palm tree which adds an incredible amount of coast line compared to any other shape. And so it was set about, to build another 56 km of coast line in the shape of a palm tree. There is a very interesting documentary on Youtube you can check out here. It basically means battling mother nature for the rest of eternity as it tries to erode it away. And the Arabs have more plans for palm, earth and claw shaped manmade coastline islands that will give a total of over 1500 km of coastline!

So the Atlantis on the Palm, the shining jewel sitting 5 miles out to sea at the very top of the Palm is a hotel that's 2 km long, has 20 restaurants, 2000 odd rooms and 4000 members of staff. The aquarium puts the great barrier reef, let alone the Sea Life Centre, to shame. I have never experienced (and bet I never will) a more lavish place in my life. As we pulled in to the covered driveway each door was opened by a member of the concierge waiting patiently. We were welcomed in to the entrance lobby that plays host to a 15 metre high sculpture made out of individual pieces of Molino glass. We were ushered in to private concierge room to check in where the kind far eastern looking woman basically told us you can have whatever you want, just pick up the phone in your room, helicopter rides, boats to the Gold markets, jet skis and rental, by the hour or the day, of any of the 6 supercars parked prominently out the front. 
I was completely gobsmacked. It was a barrage to the senses. The opulence of the place, the people, everything. A middle eastern toilet attendant even handed me my personal towel to dry my hands after having a piss. Dad mentioned that he wasn't just in the toilet to hand out towels. You really can get whatever you want here... Whatever floats your boat!

We were shown to our room, which is used in the loosest possible way, as this place was not a hotel room but a full executive suite with all amenities. The bathroom was something to write home about (haha get it?) and had a massive roll top jacuzzi bath in the middle of the room straddled by his and hers sink areas all clad in bright marble. The living space in my van was dwarfed by this bathroom alone!

The view from the balcony was epic. Sat at the top most part of the Palm looking back towards the skyline of Dubai. And it was a comfortable 26 degrees in November.

We were told that we had access to the executive lounge where we would find soft drinks, teas and coffees as well as a range of alcoholic beverages. Well as soon as we were settled in we headed straight for the lounge and enjoyed unlimited mojitos, sex on the beaches, numerous whiskeys, beers and an array of bits to eat including sushi, smoked salmon entrĂ©es, onion bhajis, and exotic salad bowls. Then I spotted a mysterious wooden case sat on the side like something out of Jumanji. The cigar box! Containing 10 or so different cigars of all sizes. How tempting! But I was with my Dad and stuck with a couple of packs of Marlboroughs. 

At first I didn't know how to conduct myself. When I fly I try and just have hand luggage. I've managed to get it down to an art. One 20l rucksack from Tescos can fit enough for me to survive comfortably for an indefinite amount of time, as long as the climate doesn't change dramatically and I can wash my clothes somehow. So I'm stood in a hotel where every door is opened for you, the people walking around look like bronzed James Bonds and Miss Moneypennies and you can spend £3,000 on a cigar from a Jumanji box. All whilst I'm wearing my best 5 year old chequed F & F short sleeved shirt and a pair of stained khaki shorts with more holes than a bowling ball. And I'm so appreciative of everything. I thank the guy who calls us the lift profusely even though all he did was hit the button. I thank the Indian guys who clean our room every day. I've been him, I've cleaned toothpaste off of a guests mirror every day, I've scrubbed the toilets clean only to come back 20 minutes later to find soggy loo roll all over the floor. But no one else does. Everyone holds themselves with an air of … I don't know... arrogance? Sophistication? Suave? It's difficult for me to tell... I say my thank you's anyway. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia...

I am very fortunate to have received a once in a life time trip to a normally closed-to-tourist country in the middle east called Saudi Arabia. It's host to the home of Islam in the name of Mecca, and somewhere that I would never have dreamed of visiting.

My Dad has recently taken up full time residency in the country and is benefiting from a tax free salary. Bliss some may say, but to his friends he calls it Jail-ddah. I was able to experience all of the best bits. I was only there for a mear 3 days, but I know I have to visit again.

The adventure didn't start in foreign lands though. Upon getting to Heathrow I became very aware that we were headed to the far right hand side of Terminal 5, the club, business, party, first class of airline travel end of the terminal. And low and behold, club class travel had been organised... Just stepping in to the pre-flight lounge was an experience, You are greeted by name, sat in a lounge where you can shower, drink, eat, lounge and are generally waited on hand and foot for, in our case, hours before your flight (because you turn up to the airport early when you have lounge access!)

I took it upon myself to try each and every one of the 6 scotch’s on offer in the complimentary bar, we enjoyed sky television, a buffet of hot and cold foods, cheeses, beers, a mini cinema, and a whole raft of that days newspapers, articles and niche magazines on offer. When I left to meet the plane I was stuffed and pissed!

When I got on the aircraft I was blown away even more.. The seats looked like nothing you've ever seen before. Space craft materials and design. The plane was nearly empty with my family sharing club class with 3 others. We had the hosts undivided attention and with that came unlimited and rellenteless whiskeys. I opted for the Lamb Birhiani and was amazed that that quality could come out of a microwave at 33,000 ft. I started watching the latest film release on my personal touch screen entertainment system but was too mullered to complete more than 30 minutes and feel asleep on my fully reclineable airplane bed. Shoes stowed in the special shoe drawer.

Arriving at Jeddah airport my sister, Ellie, had to don the sexiest of attire, a Saudi custom is for all women to cover themselves with a, normally black, head to toe garment called an Abaya. From what I could gather it is used for men to protect against other men from looking at their women in a lustful manner.

Driving in Jeddah is the most fascinating and at the same time terrifying thing I have ever experienced. There is all of the infrastructure, its like a normal road, all be it a 4 lane carriageway but we have those in the UK yeh? However, here a 4 lane carriageway has no rules, we witnessed a few of the following:

  • A bus doing a U-turn in a busy 4 lane, 8 way carriageway
  • One chap reversing down the 'slow' lane of the carriageway for what looked to be an indefinite distance
  • 'Dangerous diversion' signs notifying you of a dangerous diversion they have constructed across another 4 lane, 8 way carriageway.
  • People in the far left lane of the carriageway wanting to turn right at stationary traffic lights, what happens when they turn green is hilarious

Ironically you will see numerous 2 - 4 year old cars with their factory installed door bump foam stickers, windscreen protective films, internal dash plastic protectors and plastic wrapped headrests in the vague attempt to keep a car nice when it's not been cleaned since its inception and has picked up enough bumps, dents, dings and scratches to warrant an English man taking it to the scrap heap.

I'd like to describe jeddah in one, hyphentated word, Oxy-moron. The cold water comes out of the tap at 45 degrees C, if there is a queue on a roundabout drivers just drive round it the other way, there are 4 person families crammed in to the front 2 seats of a micra and there's a La Senza in a country where women have to wear a big black sheet in public. But there are plus sides. It costs my Dad £3.20 to fill the fuel tank of his car... and with that he gets two packets of tissues and a litre of drinking water. Water is literally more expensive than fuel and the local desalination plant burns the oily black stuff to make drinking water.

Dad lives on a compound. There are a number of them dotted around Jeddah and presumably the whole of Saudi. These are places of safety for western people. As you enter the 10 metre high walls of the compound by car you are slowed to a creep with concrete fortifications, everything looks scary and miliary like. There are armed guards supplied by the Saudi National Guard and on one compound we visited, a 50 calibre gun trained perminantly down the entrance road. Yet, in true Saudi custom we were subjected to the most stringent of security measures as a man walks the length of our car holding what looks to be an old CRT TV antenna empedded in to a piece of wooden dowling. Apparently this is a bomb detector and I instantly feel much much more safe!

That day was spent by a surprisingly pleasant pool complex. The compound caters for nearly every interest, offering a barbers, supermarket, bowling ally and no less than 3 swimming complexes. 

That evening saw us and a few of Dads friends piling in to a couple of taxis and making the treacherous journey to a different compound where a French guy was hosting a party. His lounge had been transformed in to a mini night club, disco lasers, smoke machine and full on pole dancing pole in the centre. A group of approximately 30 people turned up over the course of the night and my dancing got even more crazier as the music got louder... until the Tomorrowland 2013 aftermovie soundtrack came on.... BAM .... I'm up and going some! Managing to hold myself upside down on the pole with my feet on the ceiling.

I had averaged 3 hours sleep a night since leaving home and tried desperately to get some kip on the closed off Westernised beach complex but to no avail. We got some take away chicken that evening and settled down for a good nights sleep as we were booked in for a snorkeling trip in the Red Sea the next day.

6am rise and a less hectic drive to the dive centre base on the creek. We joined a couple of Dads work colleagues and an assortment of proper divers with tanks and regulators etc and sped out of the creek towards a couple of coral reefs 23km off the coast in the Red Sea on a fairly large boat. Wealthy Arabs joined us to jump and do stunts off of the boat's wake on their high powered jet ski's, I didn't realise the height some of them could get and was even scared for them when it looked like they may flip over.

Once the skipper had dropped anchor and explained where we could go in relation to the reef in front of us I was first to strip off and take the plunge from the top deck of the boat. It is roasting hot after all! 36 degrees during the day! The water was lovely, not cold, and perfectly clear. I donned my snorkel and was opened up to a completely unknown world. I'd been snorkeling before in harbours and off of beaches, but never had I seen anything like what was on this reef. 
The colours were spectacular, the coral swayed as the waves made me bob like a cork. Fish swam literally everywhere. It was incredible. I was very envious as the 6 proper divers plunged in near the boat and I saw their decent clouded by bubbles.

The day on the boat was very pleasurable. We alternated between floating in the salty sea, taking in the different sea creatures, fish and corals, to soaking up the sun on the boat, refreshments and snacks included. We had seen a school of flat nosed dolphins on the way out. The skipper turned the boat in a big circle so they could play in the wake. Dad and I were floating near the boat when a Polish guy, in Saudi to map the reefs from an aircraft at night, nonchalantly shouted that there was some Dolphins. Dad and I turned around to see the ominous sight of dorsal fins sticking out of the water a little way out from us. I've got to be honest I was a little scared, I'm a good swimmer, but not compared to a 8m long shark. My fears heightened when the fins simultaneously turned towards us and slowly descended under the water. I didn't have my goggles on and couldn't see where they had gone.

Every now and then the Dolphins would come up for air, surprising us as they circled around, one getting within reaching distance of my Dad. It was a truly spectactular experience, and one I craved more of! The fear had gone and I wanted to spend the whole day in that luke warm sea. Through out the day the Dolphins came back to the boat 3 more times. Each time I jumped back in eagerly with my video camera, trying desperately to get close enough for a good shot.

A storm was brewing in the distance, the coast guard had warned us of it when we left the creek, but the Dolphins returned just one last time. I grabbed my mask and camera, jumped in and managed this awesome shot.

It was a really incredible moment. I turned around and nearly everyone from the boat was in the water. Even the Sri Lankan skipper had shed his clothes and was in with us.

Who needs Sea World when you can see wild, bottlenosed Dolphins in their natural habitat. I listened eagerly as we sped back to avoid the storm. The divers had seen Baracuda, Manta Rays and Moray Eals. I need to get my PADI open water license!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

So what's he been up to?...

It's been a little while and there's been no new stunning coast line or moody sunset pictures from beaches or snowclad mountains.

And that's pretty simply because we have stayed put in our home town for a bit. I remember posting extaticaly about saving up £10k for our vagabonding adventure. We eventually saved up a mighty 20 grand in the end. Not a measely sum. Could have been a deposit on a property. But we've done better than that. We've lived a fantastic, varied, exciting, scary, lazy, difficult 2 years... My trouble is I don't want it to end!

New Alp Beastie
However the money has run out. We bought a new van and are in the process of converting her for an Alp living beastie, but in the process spent everything we own. So we got to work. Kerry back at the Airport and me doing absolutely anything to bring in any money, spreading my time between a print firm working at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, numerous odd jobs and delivering pizzas on a moped in Brighton.

Fortunately we have no worries about where to live whilst we build the van. This is the real point to make. We could not have changed vans if we did not have anywhere to live. Unless the new van was perfect and we could just move in, but it's not. It's an empty shell! We are very fortunate to have the use of my Dads house whilst he is working abroad.... Without this kind gesture we would not have been able to change vans.

One of the random odd jobs I managed to pick up was an alternative gig being an extra on the new Warner Brothers film Tarzan. It stars Samuel L Jackson and Alexander Skarsgard with Margot Robbie as lead female. I can't say too much as the film isn't out yet and your kind of held to an embargo, but come its 2016 release date expect a delayed blog posting! If you ever get to be an extra on a feature film, take it! A fantastic experience.

So now work carries on... van work.... work for money... but all with the desire to hit the slopes again for our 3rd season.